Note: The context of this post is not intended to discredit the service of others outside of the Marine Corps or appear condescending. Every Marine abides by the maxim “keeping our honor clean” – this is due to the Marine Corps’ high core values indoctrinated in us at recruit training.
Furthermore, for Pastors or Church leadership reading, in no way shape or form is this post intended to glorify war or violence. There is nothing more tragic than for one man to kill a fellow image-bearer. I do believe that warfare is necessary when protecting one’s nation- the scriptures of the Old Testament alone prove this. The purpose of this post is to tell the story of what I have been exposed to and how the Lord brought me through it.
This isn’t going to be your typical Jesus/residency post. In fact, it’ll probably be a bit darker for the believing Christian. If you’re uneasy about the words “killing” or “warfare,” I wouldn’t suggest reading this post. However, many people have asked or have noticed a post on Instagram where I’m in a military uniform. If you know me apart from the Corps or serve with me in any ministry capacity, you’d probably never know about what I do in the Marines.
I’m currently serving as a field radio operator attached to Charlie Company, 4th Recon Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve. To break it down, I’ve been serving a six-year contract in the “part-time” Marine Corps.
In the Marine Corps Reserve, Marines are allowed to have full-time civilian jobs or go to school as long as they’re upholding military standards. Every month, I’m obligated to serve one weekend and fulfill my duties as a Marine. These weekends are called “Drills.” The idea of a weekend drill usually means Thursday through Sunday and then two weeks in the summer. Unfortunately, every time I go to “drill” – I’m extremely burdened- mostly because of how inconvenient they can be. If I don’t show up to drill, I’ll be considered “UA” (unexcused absence)- which is pretty much a scary way to say “not where I should be.” If a Marine accumulates too many unexcused absences, they will be prone to discharge under conditions other than honorable- That doesn’t look good when applying for future employment and will be required to complete a background check.
With all that said about the Reserves, I’m going to share a little bit about the Marine Corps culture, what I’ve done, and what it’s like being in the ministry at the same time.
But first, one of the easiest questions I hear a lot is – “Do you have a nickname in the Marines?”
Yes, I do. . . Normally people would call me by my first name, however, to my fellow Marines I’m known to them as “Baby G” or simply “G.” Around three and a half years ago when I first arrived at my unit, I was the “baby” or “boot” (a derogatory term for a new guy) of my company. The name is also paired with the fact that compared to all the other Marines in my unit, I’m the only one that looks like I’m still sixteen.
I’ve intentionally written this post to be as detailed and lengthy as possible. With that, I’ve divided up each major chapter of my military career for the individual reader’s interest.
1. The Marine Corps Culture & Brotherhood
2. Recruit Training (Boot Camp)
3. Marine Combat Training
4. Communications School
5. 4th Reconnaissance Battalion
6. Ministry & the Military
Enough sidetracking. Here we go!
1. The Marine Corps Culture & Brotherhood
The best way to describe being in the Marine Corps is like mixing together a Greek fraternity, boy scouts, and a religious cult that just happens to crave violence. Let me explain:
Beginning at boot camp, we’re indoctrinated into a ritualistic warrior culture where we believe we’re better than anyone else who doesn’t bear the title “U.S. Marine.” Most Marines even look down upon any serviceman that serves in any branch apart from the Marine Corps. Even amongst Marines, some Marines look down upon other Marines simply by what job they hold in the Corps. This tends to look like, which role is more demanding or which one is easier.
You see, unlike the civilian society, the military is quite a different atmosphere.
Tradition states that the Marine Corps was born in a bar called Tun Tavern in Pennsylvania as the Second Continental Congress was highly intoxicated; thus raising two battalions of Marines in 1775. Marines will usually be the loudest in the room while capable of proving why they are. The majority of Marines may be rude alcoholics, dip/smoke too much, arrogant, and enjoy acts of violence.
At boot camp, we’re desensitized into believing we can shoot better, run farther, swim farther, hike bigger hills, carry heavier packs, and accomplish more with less. Our basic training is the hardest and longest of all the branches of the armed services.
Although at times I see the Marine Corps as a burden, it’s a chapter of my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Never before had I been a part of a team (apart from Christ’s Church) as I have been in the Corps. In fact, most of my buddies in my unit are the complete opposite compared to me, but there isn’t a thing we wouldn’t do for each other. When you’re exposed to difficult situations for long periods, brotherhood is bound to be shaped.
Without exaggerating the details of my service, I’ll tell you plainly, in truth, what my experience in the Marines has been like so far. I’ll start with boot camp.
2. Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego (Boot Camp):
Until I was 18 years old, I was raised by my parents who blessed and spoon-fed me more than I should have been. I can’t complain about my cushioned life, no bills to pay, new car to drive, parents to provide the bread and I never even had a job up to the point of graduating high school. However, growing up, I was always drawn to the life of a warrior. My plan was to go to college and commission as an officer.
Once I didn’t get into the school I wanted to, as angry as I was with the Lord, He led me to enlistment instead. As I look back on why the Lord would do that- I’ve come to realize that He put me through enlistment so that I could trust Him more. As a “baby Christian,” this was one of my first growth seasons in my faith.
On October 21st, 2013 I was placed in the atmosphere of Marine Drill Instructors where I received an unexpected culture shock. It was a brutal awakening as I first tasted the extreme military culture. Never in my life was I called the things I was, much less screamed (or rather spit) into my face. At boot camp, we often times weren’t referred to as our own names. If a DI summoned a recruit to do a task, the common command was usually something berating – and the interesting thing was that we were actually conditioned to respond to our “new names” over those 13 weeks.
Marine Corps Recruit Training is meant to do two things: break down those who don’t need to be there and make basic human weapons out of those who have what it takes. My life drastically changed over the course of those three months. Most days it certainly felt like a three-month haze fest, because it was, a lawful haze fest funded by the U.S. Government.
Most of what you will do is sharpen small disciplines like close order drill. However, everyone is ultimately taught the elementary basics of killing with knives, bayonets, and hands. One phrase we were expected to yell throughout our hand to hand combat drills was “kill.” Even outside of those drills, we yelled “kill” for simply acknowledging a task.
Furthermore, everyone became familiar with using an M16A4 service rifle. We were all expected to qualify with these weapons by scoring from the 300 to 500-yard mark. Each recruit is graded by how well they shoot at the range. They will either qualify Marksman, Sharpshooter or Expert; expert being the highest scored shooter.
Going through boot camp, I had never run more, swam more, hiked more, or sweat more than I had my entire life- It was the hardest thing in all of my 18 years on earth. However, a graduating Marine couldn’t be more relieved to overcome the hardships of boot camp. Every night meant a prayer of asking the Lord to help me get through the next day. He certainly did.
I graduated boot camp with Platoon 3223, Lead Series, Kilo Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion on January 17th, 2014.
Here are some of the things that I took away from boot camp when I went in 2013. For the Poolee or potential Marine reading, you may find these tips helpful:
– Be ready to be on your feet for most of the day. This is kind of expected, but there aren’t any chairs at boot camp and you’re not allowed to sit on your rack during the day. Within the first couple of weeks, you’ll begin to feel a strong desire to sit down, so often times when you do sit down, it’s only when told to sit in an uncomfortable “criss-cross-applesauce” position with your back straight.
– You’ll experience “Intensive Training” a few times at boot camp. Don’t think of it as punishment for your mistakes. You may be “IT’d” for things like not making your rack fast enough or just simply for existing. It will only make you stronger.
– Take everything a DI calls you with a grain of salt. They go through hundreds of recruits a year so don’t take anything personally. Have a hardened mindset. If you can’t handle a few little nicknames about you or your family members, the rest of your Marine Corps career will be a nightmare. The goal of a Drill Instructor is to make your life as miserable and as stressful as possible.
– This one is weird, and there’s also not a whole lot you can do about it, but try and be comfortable with using a urinal next to four to five other guys at a time. You will get close with your platoon. You’ll have two minutes to use the heads (bathrooms). There are nine urinals and eight to ten stalls for an 80-man platoon. Try using the heads within a minute.
– You’ll chug an entire canteen of water every night. Again, some of these you can’t really do about them, but you’ll get up a few times to use the heads (bathrooms) a night. Monitor your sleep time.
– If you’re preparing physically for boot camp, all you need to work on is pull-ups, crunches, and running. Believe it or not, it’ll be much more beneficial to run three miles at your local park every other day than spending it at the gym. If you weigh 175, you’ll come out of boot camp around ten to fifteen pounds lighter. If you’re skinny, you’ll stay skinny.
– You are given 15 minutes to eat, however, 15 minutes means when your platoon (around 60-90 recruits) gets to the chow hall. You really have five minutes to eat. Eating will be a priority every day, but you’ll always be hungry and you won’t eat a lot.
3. School of Infantry West | Camp Pendleton, CA (Marine Combat Training):
Boot Camp may have been the hardest thing an eighteen-year-old male could have ever done at that point. However, the training only got harder for me there. But at least I was a Marine and an actual human being again.
Following boot camp at MCT, training was increasingly difficult, for me it was mainly because of the humps (hikes). When civilians hear “hiking” – it’s probably assumed as go at your own pace, nature walking, and lots of sight seeing. For the Marine, “humping” the hills at Camp Pendleton meant going at an almost jog-like pace with a 50-60 lb pack along with your rifle and kevlar for a distance of up to fifteen miles; Infantry Training Battalion it’s twenty-something miles. You have to pass the humps. If you fall out (quit) during one of the humps – instead of enjoying your liberty that weekend, you’ll probably be doing it again. If you keep failing the humps without progressing, you may be eligible for separation from the Marine Corps. Humping in the Marine Corps is also associated with throwing up several times while on the move.
At School of Infantry, whether you’re at MCT or ITB, you’ll also be exposed to long periods of being in the “field” – which is just being outside where there are no bathrooms or showers. You’ll adapt to life outside and you won’t shower for around two weeks at MCT. It sucked for a clean freak like me but it’s totally do-able.
At MCT, we all learned how to use an M240B light machine gun (without a doubt, one of my favorite weapon systems). I threw a live M67 hand grenade. Throwing a grenade isn’t as glamorous as it seems, you don’t get to see it when you throw it, but from a blast shield- it’s just a deafening thud and cloud of dust. I learned how to use an M203 grenade launcher- that wasn’t as cool as I thought it would be. We also did a night shooting package (course of events) where we used NVGs and PEQ-15s (Night Vision Goggles with Infrared laser illuminating targeting).
Every weapon system learned I had to know basics of taking it apart and putting it back together again by memory. The reason for this is because the Marine Corps indoctrinates ALL of its members with the ethos “Every Marine a rifleman…” – meaning every Marine (no matter what specialized role) must be efficient with an M16A4 service rifle and familiar with performing in combat. In regards to marksmanship, every Marine must qualify annually with high marks at shooting from 300 to 500 yards.
I graduated Marine Combat Training with Second Platoon, Follow Series, Kilo Company on March 4th, 2014.
4. Marine Corps Communications & Electronics School | Twentynine Palms, CA
All of my initial active duty training was done in California. From San Diego (Boot camp), Camp Pendleton (MCT), and then Twentynine Palms (Comm School). Communications School was perhaps my most independent experience in the active duty Marine Corps. There I learned the basics of radio communications. Going to Communications School was such a drastically different experience from MCT – it was like college in the military.
The Marine Corps Communications & Electronics School is held at Marine Corps Base Twentynine Palms. This place is not where you would want to spend your enlistment stationed at. Doing life in Twentynine Palms made for an incredibly mundane time. This is because the base is out in the middle of the Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave Desert. It’s terrible. The ride there is depressing and the outside city infrastructure literally consists of dozens of tire shops, nail salons, massage parlors, and used car dealerships. There is not much to do, so most of the entertainment is left to the individual to discover. Since it’s out in the desert – it’s incredibly draining to walk anywhere if you don’t have a car.
Let’s just say I spent most of my free time at Comm school in my barracks room watching the entire series of Breaking Bad and Lost.
On Sundays, out of 2000+ Marines attending comm school, only a solid ten went to church regularly.
Upon graduating from Comm school, our FROC (class) was assigned to our duty stations for the remainder of our Marine Corps career. For the Reserve Marine, this meant a plane ticket home. For the unlucky radio operator going to the fleet (active duty Marine Corps), this could mean an un-welcomed haze-fest from Marines who have deployed and are looking for a reason to make a boot’s life miserable.
I graduated Comm School with Field Radio Operator’s Course 17-14, Bravo Company, MCCES.
5. Charlie Co. 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Marine Division
Until October 2019, I’m now attached to Charlie Company, 4th Recon Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve. This unit is based out of San Antonio, Texas.
To give a clear picture of what my unit does, a Reconnaissance unit is simply the eyes and ears of the Marine Corps. Most of what my unit is capable of is gathering intelligence on supposed enemy entities. This field requires qualified “Recon Marines.” These Marines are the cream of the crop within the Marine Corps; they are set apart from the average Marine. You can watch this four-minute clip from Discovery Channel’s Surviving the Cut giving you a visual account of what Recon Marines are about. A lot of Recon Marines are airborne qualified, scout snipers, SERE, dive qualified, etc (ie high speed). They’re able to make comfort out of training in the most austere conditions and environments. For any other human being, living the way these Marines do in the field would make you count your blessings. This is what makes Recon Marines special, that’s why there are less than a thousand active Recon Marines in the world right now.
As for me, I’m not so important or as impressive as these Recon Marines. I’m mostly used as a humvee driver or one of their radio operators. However, being attached to this unit, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to partake in some pretty neat training most people my age only see in movies.
So far in my military career with 4th Recon Battalion, I’ve been able to qualify rifle expert and pistol sharpshooter. I’ve also shot a table (range) while quick transitioning from an M4 to a Colt M45A1 (or an M9 Beretta), learn M1152 up-armored vehicle operations in response to an IED ambush, familiarized myself with amphibious reconnaissance operations (setting up a Battalion Landing Site or conducting Reconnaissance & Surveillance), boating operations with Zodiac boats in day and night operations (they don’t let radio operators do this anymore), and set up mobilized radio operating centers.
Sometime within the next two to three years, my unit may possibly be deployed to Okinawa Japan for a six-month rotation at Camp Hansen. It’s unclear if I will be deployed or finished with my contract.
6. Ministry & the Marines
The Marine Corps is such a stark contrast from serving in the ministry. In the ministry, you’re cared for, encouraged, and loved on by fellow believers. For me, like day and night, that environment switches to an atmosphere of overbearing masculinity and often times- barbarism. I won’t promote the idea of seeing acute femininity in men within the Church- personally, the last thing the Church needs is men in leadership roles that are weak. However, masculinity in the Church is associated with a different meaning than that of the military. If you’re reading this and you don’t follow Jesus- this will make absolutely zero sense.
Every time I pass the gate guard on base- I can feel a sense of spiritual darkness hovering over me. I know that I will be exposed to seeing sexual immorality, drunkenness, cruelty to one another, and self-worship. Make no mistake, I have buddies in the Marines that I absolutely cherish and would go lengths to protect my friendship with. When I’ve gone through years of training and bonding with these guys- I can’t help but call them my brothers. However, most of my friends in the Marines just don’t get what I do or why I live my life a certain way. They know I’m in the ministry but the extent of this is “just working at a church.”
Unfortunately, walking in step with the Spirit hasn’t always been the case at drill. I’ve had my share of “first timer” experiences and mistakes in the Marines- even while I was serving in ministry. However, the Lord has always been quick to heal and restore me (Luke 15:32).
Even when I’ve felt defeated by a drill I just did not faithfully walk with the Lord in- He is willing and ready to forgive. What an incredible thought that I would be called a servant of the Good Master!
Truthfully, I’ll tell you that I’m not the best Marine. I would probably fall within the average and “bare minimum” if military performance could be categorized. My priorities have changed since I was eighteen, with that, my desires to pursue ministry for the rest of my life (God-willing) has increased. Although I hold dear my Marine Corps service, I’m most likely not going to reenlist due to that fact that I feel the Marines just isn’t for me anymore. I simply believe the Lord is stirring my desire to pursue ministry after I leave the Marines.
In closing to this post, I’m praising God for serving four years in the Marines. Here’s to 789 days left until I check out of the Marine Corps Reserve!
Side by side and Semper Fidelis,